I only started watching the various Law & Order shows a few years ago, but it's pretty clear to me now that the range between good Law & Order episodes and bad ones is relatively slight regardless. The best ones, whether from Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Law & Order: LA, or even Law & Order: UK, hold the viewer's interest and may even offer a surprise or two, plus one is interested in the show's continuing cast and guest characters. However, while the weaker ones may be predictable and uninspired, they're rarely terrible. It still amounts to a slightly higher class of TV comfort food, with Law & Order a baked potato with real sour cream as opposed to the pork rinds shows like American Idol proffer.
Within that narrow range Law & Order: Criminal Intent (2001-2011), at least judging by The Seventh Year '08-'09 Season, as it's billed, is perhaps a notch below the original Law & Order and Special Victims Unit, though not by much. It's composed of the same types of stories and situations as all the other Law & Order shows with only minor variations.
Universal released the first six seasons of Criminal Intent to DVD beginning in 2003 and ending in 2011. However, Law & Order: Criminal Intent - The Seventh Year '08-'09 Season comes to DVD courtesy of Shout! Factory, apparently with them taking the baton as they have with other half-finished-on-DVD Universal-owned shows. Happily, there's no drop in picture/sound quality, packaging, etc., and even the SRP is a bit lower than the earlier Universal releases.
Law & Order: Criminal Intent had a convoluted history. The first six seasons aired in primetime on NBC, but for its last four the show moved to the (NBCUniversal-owned) USA Network. From the beginning Vincent D'Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe starred as Detectives Robert Goren and Alexandra Eames. Then, beginning with Season Five, Chris Noth joined the cast. Noth had played Detective Mike Logan in the original Law & Order series from its inception in 1988 until he was fired in 1995 (due to personality conflicts with series creator Dick Wolf), though he returned for a 1998 Law & Order TV movie.
In the revamped format, D'Onofrio and Erbe typically appear in every other episode, alternating with Noth's Law & Order character and his new partner. In Season Four it was Annabella Sciorra, playing Det. Carolyn Barek, but she left after just one season and was replaced by Julianne Nicholson as Det. Megan Wheeler. Further confusing things, Nicholson went on maternity leave during Season Seven and was replaced on some shows by Alicia Witt, as Det. Nola Falacci. Got all that?
The premise has all these various detectives, along with their current Capt., Danny Ross (monologist Eric Bogosian, somewhat out of place here) working New York City's "Major Case Squad," though little distinguishes the settings or cases from all the other Law & Order shows. Wikipedia describes the series as "[paying special] attention to the actions and motives of the criminals, rather than focusing exclusively on the police and prosecutions" but I found this only marginally true, compared to other shows in the Law & Order franchise.
Episodes begin with a "cold open," a series of quick cuts presenting a disjointed backstory peppered sometimes with clues to the crime its detectives will be investigating. For those unfamiliar with this device, Criminal Intent's opening will understandably confuse; it took this reviewer several episodes to even realize what these openings were attempting to do.
The move to from NBC to the USA Network was designed to keep the show going while reducing or defraying costs. That said, in terms of production values Criminal Intent hardly resembles a cheap, made-for-cable TV show; without factoring in star salaries, it appears to have enjoyed a budget only slightly less than other Law & Order programs. The most obvious difference between this and, say, a concurrent episode of Special Victims Unit is that SVU attracts and can afford A-list guest stars. SVU's guest casts that year included important actors like Tom Noonan, Ellen Burstyn, James Brolin, Lindsay Crouse, Wallace Shawn, Carol Burnett, Cicely Tyson, Alex Kingston, Christine Lahti, and Dabney Coleman; on Criminal Intent, a Peter Coyote or Rene Auberjonois will turn up, but rarely.
Without such guest stars shows like Criminal Intent hang their formula-driven plots on the personalities of its stars. D'Onofrio, Erbe, Noth, and Nicholson are all reasonably good but none is really capable of carrying the show, either. (A friend likes D'Onofrio in this series, but I find his actorly mannerisms affected and artificial for my tastes.)
Video & Audio
Twenty-two 41+ minute shows are presented across five single-sided, dual-layered region 1 discs, with episodes in 16:9 enhanced 1.78:1 widescreen. The image as well as the Dolby Digital stereo (English only, with optional closed-captioning) is up to contemporary television and home video standards, with a bright, clear and sharp image throughout, and with good contrast as well.
No supplements, but the packaging includes a useful episode guide, with episode titles and plot summaries.
Fairly good for what it is. And it's good indeed that Shout! Factory has picked it up from Universal, Law & Order: Criminal Intent's Season Seven comes Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV's latest audio commentary, for AnimEigo's Musashi Miyamoto DVD boxed set, is on sale now.